What is a hangover?
It's safe to say most of us have experienced the dreadful aftermath from a night of drinking and having a little too much fun, also called a hangover.
A hangover is a collection of symptoms that show up after the overconsumption of alcohol. Symptoms will depend on the person, type of alcohol beverage, and the amount consumed however they commonly look like the following:
- stomach aches
- compromised sleep
- low focus and mood
In most cases, symptoms are mild and will disappear after about 24 hours. However, if you do experience more severe symptoms consult your doctor or health care provider immediately.
If you are going to drink there are some guidelines you can follow in order to minimize the negative effects:
- never drink on an empty stomach, always have a balanced meal or snack containing some healthy fat, protein, and fiber to slow the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream and reduce gastrointestinal irritation
- stay hydrated by drinking at least 1 glass of water alongside every alcoholic drink
- choose lighter liquors such as gin, clear tequila, and vodka which have less of an impact on your blood sugar. Darker liquors such as whiskey, dark tequila, brandy, and red wine also contain chemical compounds called congeners, which contribute to hangover symptoms.
Less alcohol is always a more prudent choice as the effects of alcohol can have numerous consequences on human health.
If you do choose to drink, there are many natural supplements that can help to prevent and treat a hangover which we will explore below:
What causes hangovers
So why exactly do we feel so lousy after drinking? Well, there are a variety of reasons. A hangover occurs as an effect of excess alcohol consumption which can push the body out of balance and impair its ability to function optimally.
Increased alcohol consumption can cause symptoms known as a hangover through various mechanisms as it can disrupt electrolyte balance, promote dehydration, cause irritation and inflammation of the digestive system, interfere with sleep, disrupting blood sugar levels, cause vasodilation of the blood vessels, and promote a buildup of acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is a byproduct of the breakdown of alcohol and a major reason for hangovers because it becomes toxic at high levels.
Many types of alcohol, such as brandy, wine, dark tequila, and whiskey also contain congeners, which can greatly contribute to hangover symptoms. Congeners are found in higher amounts in dark liquors and act as free radicals, causing oxidative damage in the body and disrupting your acid-alkaline (pH) balance.
A hangover is a good indicator from the body that it likely exceeded its limit of indulgence and needs a little TLC.
5 natural hangover cures that actually work
Looking for a hangover remedy? While there may not be a cure for hangovers there are definitely ways you can support yourself to reduce the severity of symptoms and bounce back more quickly. Don't fret, we got you covered for your hangover relief!
Activated charcoal is made most commonly from slowly burnt coconut shells but also wood or peat.
It has historically been used as a treatment for food poisoning and diarrhea by trapping harmful chemicals and toxins for them to be eliminated by the body (1). This process is known as adsorption, which is basically the process of attracting and binding molecules to a specific surface.
During or after drinking, activated charcoal may help to minimize the effects of alcohol due to its capabilities to bind onto toxins and potentially decrease alcohol absorption in the gut (2).
Check with your health care provider before supplementing with charcoal, as it can bind to medications and nutrients and thus should not be used on a regular basis.
Electrolytes are minerals that carry an electric charge and serve vitally important functions in the body such as nerve transmission, acid/base (pH) balance, waste removal out of the cell, water balance in the body, nutrient absorption into the cell...
When drinking alcohol, these electrolytes can be lost or depleted, promoting symptoms known as a hangover. This can be worsened in cases such as diarrhea, vomiting, or sweating which can deplete electrolytes even more. Electrolyte replenishment either with foods or supplementation can help to restore levels lost.
Potassium is particularly important, as the Standard American diet typically depletes potassium levels, as well as alcohol consumption. You may have heard bananas are a good post hangover food and this is because they are naturally rich in this electrolyte.
Magnesium, another mineral eliminated excessively through the urine from alcohol consumption, is a common deficiency as it is also depleted from chronic stress and low dietary intake.
Coconut water is a good natural source of electrolytes that can help to rehydrate the body. You can include coconut water as a strategic drink before, during or after alcohol consumption to reduce unwanted symptoms.
When you drink alcohol, the body is exposed to increased free radicals which can damage tissues and increase inflammation. NAC can help to decrease free radical damage while also supporting the liver in detoxification (3).
Its role in antioxidant production, detoxification and liver support may help to prevent side effects from toxins such as alcohol.
Cysteine is also found abundantly in eggs, a great food to include with breakfast after a night out!
Well known for its ability to treat nausea and stomach upset, ginger can be effective for treating digestive symptoms stemming from alcohol intoxication.
Ginger is also a source of antioxidants and liver-protective compounds that can help to target free radicals in the body and lower induced oxidative stress due to alcohol consumption (4).
Consuming a cup of ginger tea can be a great way to receive the benefits of this herb while soothing the digestive system.
There seems to be no limit to what curcumin can do!
The liver is an organ that is particularly impacted by alcohol consumption, especially from chronic use. When the liver is continuously trying to detoxify alcohol it can become damaged and inflamed by this process which also increases toxins and inflammatory chemicals.
Though you will receive benefits from cooking with the herb turmeric, curcumin supplementation is usually recommended for therapeutic effects.
Drinking water may sound simple but it's essential to get your hangover under control. If you can, we recommend hydrating before and during alcohol consumption, not just when you feel the hangover effects as a preventative measure. This will help to keep the body hydrated and combat the effects of alcohol as it can dehydrate the body of fluids. This won't necessarily make your hangover disappear but it can definitely help you feel better off!
Also known as DHM, this extract is found in the Japanese raisin tree and has been used for thousands of years as a herbal remedy for hangovers but also liver problems. Because it is a flavonoid, a type of antioxidant, it has potent anti-inflammatory and free radical scavenging effects.
Dihydromyricetin may help prevent or lessen hangover symptoms by providing hepatoprotective effects, increasing alcohol breakdown, and blocking the effects of alcohol on neurotransmitters such as GABA.
Vitamins For Hangover Prevention
B vitamins are some of the nutrients that are depleted from alcohol consumption and deficiencies can be associated with common hangover symptoms (1)(2). So could supplementing with a B complex help or prevent hangovers?
The B vitamins are not only essential for physical wellbeing but also mental wellbeing, helping to promote energy and a positive mood, which typically aren't so common when experiencing a hangover. B vitamins are also involved in the detoxification process and are relied upon by the liver to do its job properly.
Taking a B complex supplement before and after drinking may help to reduce hangover symptoms by replenishing vitamins lost from alcohol use.
A vitamin, but also an important antioxidant, vitamin C can be depleted by alcohol consumption. Vitamin C can help to protect the liver while also decreasing oxidative stress and neuroinflammation triggered by alcohol (7).
Taking vitamin C may help to minimize hangover symptoms by speeding up the clearance of alcohol in the bloodstream (8).
A powerful antioxidant, vitamin E can help to reduce cell and tissue damage caused by oxidative stress. Hangover severity has been significantly associated with biomarkers of oxidative stress (9)(10).
The best way to obtain vitamin E is from the diet from foods such as almonds, sunflower seeds, peanuts, peanut butter, whole grains, olive oil, leafy greens, eggs, and kiwi.
You can also supplement but be sure to look for naturally sourced vitamin E (d-alpha-tocopherol) as well as mixed tocopherols for greater benefits.
Check with your doctor before supplementing as certain supplements may include synthetic forms that can promote toxicity in the body and result in complications.
Laurence Annez is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and Health Coach, specializing in PCOS and women's hormones. She also holds a degree in Creative Writing and has extensive experience writing on health and wellness topics. Laurence's mission is to inspire and motivate individuals to take control of their own health and reach their ultimate health goals.